NASCAR: New crew chief, new optimism for Jamie McMurray in 2015

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One of the standout drivers in the second half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was Jamie McMurray, who although he failed to win a points-paying race and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup was consistently the biggest thorn in the Chasers’ side down the road.

McMurray, in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, ended 18th in the 2014 standings – one spot behind rookie teammate Kyle Larson – still won the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte and secured seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in the season.

After a winless year, it seems quite possible that McMurray could return to victory lane in 2015.

He’ll attempt to do so with new crew chief Matt McCall, who takes the reins from Keith Rodden. This will be McMurray’s third crew chief in as many years.

“I’m super stoked about Matt,” McMurray told MotorSportsTalk at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test last week. “He’s from the same mold that Paul Wolfe and Rodney Childers came from, where he had a driving career, peaked at that, and became crew chiefs. They do as good a job as anyone.

“From Matt’s background, he’s done a really nice job at the shop with his people skills. That’s half the job of being a crew chief, is dealing with and managing the people. I’m anxious to get to track and work with him.”

McMurray, like others, has to adapt to NASCAR’s testing ban for 2015, where only series or Goodyear tire tests are occurring. He related how big of a challenge that will be, especially considering Daytona will mark his first time working with McCall at the track.

“What’s weird is that no one ever wanted to go test, but now we can’t, and you wish you could!” McMurray explained. “It’s also a bit of a challenge for people in my position, where you haven’t worked with your crew chief. You need to learn each other, emotions, your goods and bads. We won’t have that until the Sprint Unlimited and the 150s. It would be nice to have the time before hand.”

As for the car changes coming this year, primarily in the horsepower reduction department, McMurray downplayed it and said it’s more a storyline for the media than an actual issue heading into the year.

“It won’t be too much different… it will be a good way for media to have a good story, about who adapts best to new rules package,” McMurray said. “But the people that adapt the best are the teams that do a good job getting the cars ready to go to track.

“The power side will be the bigger discrepancy,” he added. “Like every year past, there’s gonna be one engine builder ahead of everyone else. Hendrick has been amazing the last few years. I hope that they’re still on top of that. There may be a bigger discrepancy being lower horsepower than there used to be.”

Lastly McMurray gets to shake the cobwebs off – a bit – this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll share the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford with Larson (who himself has been busy this month) and two of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

“It’s probably one of the best perks of driving for Chip is being a part of this event,” he said. “You’re part of a car that can win every year.”

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).